After a totally wonderful and memorable weekend it's time to get ready for next working week, that starts at 8.55 tomorrow when the train departs to Strasbourg. Meaning, being away from home, my gym, friends and every day life here, for a four day long plenary session.
19 000 extra tonnes of CO2 are produced since MEPs and officials must leave our homes, for me meaning Brussels, and trek to Strasbourg.
And it is very costly to send us there. The most recent analysis, from 2012, shows an additional cost of the European Parliament having seats also in Luxembourg and Strasbourg (some €180 million a year, including depreciation on buildings).
Not to talk about the missed working hours (approximately 4 each way plus the time to and from the train stations).
A majority of MEPs – 78% – have urged governments to revise the issue of the parliament’s official ‘Seat’ – Strasbourg. This is a majority in all of the parliament’s political groups.
Now Strasbourg is a pretty city, and after five years in the EP I've found my own way of making the Strasbourg sessions more managable, for example by having the same apartment is sessions, through Airbnb, where I can cook my own food if wanted, and by bringing yoghurts, fruits and nuts to the office, since it's really long working days. And on Wednesday mornings I have a 8 kilometer run with a friend before work.
I'm excited! My traveling agenda for 2017 is so far only filled with a long weekend to Sweden to visit my family in February. For the rest it's totally available for exciting destinations! On top of my list for this year are Barcelona, Japan, Berlin and the West Coast of the US, plus Hawaii. And then London and Paris of course. To start with. And the best part is that I don't need to go on my own discovery new corners of the world any longer! Will be booking shortly :-)
Tuesday is a crucial day for the European Parliament. It's when the new president of the house is to be elected. In my opinion, in the light of the challenges that Europe is facing in 2017, on counter-terrorism, the refugee situation, the increasing global competition, the climate challenges, the abolishment of the remaining trade barriers in the internal market, the informal agreement with Turkey, and the need for a common security policy that can match Russia's tense muscles, it is an election of outmost importance. The European Parliament definitely needs to be represented by a new bold leadership.
At a time when less citizens see the meaning or purpose of the European Union – however, I want to stress that the absolute majority in the EU is still wholeheartedly supporting the European project and have realized that we need to continue the cross-border cooperation to meet common challenges – the European Parliament needs a president that arouses fervor and hope of the citizens in Europe.
The outcome of Tuesday's votes is still unclear, but I keep my fingers crossed for Guy Verhofstadt, the liberal candidate, of course. He is a true EU friend and has the visions and energy that the EU currently needs.
Many of you have asked for my best piece of advice for a successful stay Cuba, so I've put together this compilation for you. Enjoy and wishing you a lovely stay when going! (more pictures to be found in my Christmas post )
Safety: It's definitely safe to travel to Cuba as a solo girl, but that doesn't mean that you should take any unnessecary risks. During daytime it's safe, no matter if you're out in the fields of Viñales or in the middle of Havana no one would approach me with cruel intentions and I never felt unsafe. Make sure to leave your passport and most of your cash in your casa particular/hotel. In Havana and Santa Clara I would not recommend you to talk alone after dawn.
Money: It's a cash society. ATM's are functioning perfectly both at the airport and in all the towns, where both Visa and Maestro cards are taken. Again, only bring cash for the day with you, leave the rest at your casa/hotel. 1 CUC is more or less 1 euro, but I would also recommend you to have some of the local currency CUP in your pocket.
Transport: It's relatively expensive to travel around in Cuba and it takes time because of badly maintained roads. It's not unusual that the taxi collectivo/bus breaks down along the way but they repair it quickly. It's easy to book transport between the towns but buy the tickets a few days ahead. The Viazul busses are to recommend, if you are full you can buy a ticket for the shuttle busses of the big hotels. Taxi collectives are to be avoided, they don't save you as much time as the locals are saying and I personally don't like to be alone in the car with the driver.
Internet: The only way to get connected if you don't want to roam is to go to an ETECSA office, queue for quite a while and buy an internet card that you can use at the "hotspots" (you recognise the hotspots by all the crowds gathering, busy texting on their phones or computers. 5 hours costs 10 CUC. At those hotspots you'll also find people wanting to sell you cards on the black market, but I wouldn't trust them. Some hotels will also sell you internet cards that you can use in their lobby.
Havana: (3 days) Stay here at least the first and last night of your trip. Stroll around in Havana vieja (the old town), make sure to see the four squares but then leave the tourist streets and get lost exploring the small, non-touristy streets in this neighbourhood, they are great. The Malecón (waterfront esplanade) is great for morning runs and sunset walks. The big art craft market, San José, is definitely the place to buy souvenirs and gifts. In Vedado Hotel Nacional and Plaza de la Revolución is worth a visit. Paseo de Marti is the leafy parade will show you locals playing chess, play football, paint or just stroll. I really liked it. The museums are over priced, full of propaganda and not really worth a visit. If wanting to escape the city, take bus T3 from Parque Central to Playa del Este. However the beach is crowded and not the most beautiful.
Viñales: (4 days) There are a lot of hikes to do in this beautiful mountainous area and unlike what the locals say you don't need a guide. The best hikes: Los Aquaticos. Valle del Silencio, the Coco Solo and Palmarito mogotes and the Mural de la Prehistoria. The hikes take normally around 4-5 hours each. They also have several cuevas (caves). The one worth visiting is Cueva del Indio. I walked from the town there and got to see the beautiful landscape, farms and lots of old, big "Pocahontas trees" along the way. Totally recommendable. But there are also busses if you don't fancy walking. A beautiful beach, Cayo Juitas , is a two hour drive away and can be booked either through your hosts or at the main street.
Cienfuegos: (2 days)A former French very beautiful town.The main square is my favourite and I spent quite a few hours just strolling around admiring the architecture, taking pictures or sitting down reading in the leafy centre of it. One of the streets from it leading to the harbour has stands with a lot of beautiful hand craft being sold. Then you of course have the Malecón (esplanade) where the sunset is totally magnificent, leading all the way to the bay where you can visit several castles. You have a beautiful beach a short bus ride from the town. I didn't see so many tourists here.
Trinidad: (3 days) Totally lovely but very touristy place. Plaza Mayor is beautiful, and I always came here with my friends in the evening to drink a Pina colada, sitting on the pavement talking and people watching. Hikes can be done from here as well. I took an hour in the morning and walked around to the outskirts of the town seeing "the real life in town" waking up. Ancon beach is a 30 minutes bus drive away from the town and it's definitely worth relaxing a day or two here. The bus ticket (Havanatur runs them) costs 5 CUC for a day.
Santa Clara: (1 day). You don't need more than 5 hours tops to discover the town. It's a busy, rough town, with a lot of Che Guevara monuments and many highly political mural painitings that are interesting to see, plus a few different, very beautiful churches. You find all the top sights here . Don't miss the Museo de Artes Decorativas at the main square.
Places to stay: I would definitely recommend you to stay in a casa particular, meaning a family renting out a room. Then you both support the local population and get a wonderful experience learning so much more about everyday life in Cuba. There are hotels but you really miss out on the authenticity of the country by staying there. I booked all my casas particulares through Airbnb and didn't have any problems. Breakfast costs 5 CUCs and was normally very delicious with fresh fruits, bread, an omelette, juice and sometimes something extra.
Havana: Hostal D'Ima, Miguel and Ivis are totally adorable, super friendly hosts who did everything to ensure I had a nice stay and they really became like my second family. For a totally wonderful stay, get in touch with them! email@example.com
Vinales: Orlando and Yoania were very friendly that directly integrated me into their family. Book through Airbnb.
CIenfuegos: Hostal Fenix. Odalys and Sergio were totally adorable as well, with whom I had lots of interesting conversations. They also felt like a second family. Book through firstname.lastname@example.org
Trinidad: I can't recommend my casa particular in Trinidad, unfortunately, but book something around Plaza Mayor .
Santa Clara: José and Ines were also very warm hearted and I can definitely recommend this place as well. Book through Airbnb.
After over a month out of the gym (doesn't mean that I haven't been sporting though, I have still been running regularly) it's great to be back!
I've lost quite some strength though, that is very obvious. So focus for the moment is on the core muscles that I need for everyday life, particularly in the office, and on stretching.
When I was a gymnast I could stretch for about an hour after training and it felt great actually, my muscles really liked it. I haven't prioritised it since moving to Brussels, but I've decided that I'll spend at least ten minutes on stretching out my body after each training from now on, because I can feel how my body is getting stiffer and my muscles are relatively short nowadays and I don't like that. I don't need to do the splits any longer of course, but I also still want to be fairly flexible.
Because stretching increases the blood flow through the muscles, decreases the risk of injuries and of course makes you more flexible, helping your joints to move through the full range of motion.
Happy new year everyone! I like to see the new year as a blank book. The pen is in our hands and it's our chance to write a beautiful story for ourselves. Whatever happens, 2017 will definitely lead to new adventures.
I don't have any new years resolution, actually. I never do (since I don't smoke I don't need to give up smoking, I don't need to loose weight because there is not super much more weight I could possible lose and I sport on a regular basis so hitting the gym and getting fitter wouldn't fly either...
But I do have a new inspirational quote every year. This year it was "dream big and make it happen", last year's quote is already forgotten, but year's quote was: you don't have to see the whole staircase, just take a first step," and if not me, who? If not now, when? (cooky, I know).
I haven't figured out the quote for 2017 yet. It usually comes autumatically during the spring term and is in full bloom around my birthday.
But it will be something positive, dreamy and full of inspiration =)
Totally my mentality and what I'll do when I get children :-)